FARM CONCERN INTERVIEW: “The Commercial Villages for Market Access and Financial Services Project (COViMAP) seeks to improve market and trade efficiency for smallholder farmers and wholesale buyers along target value chains”

Tomson Okot Farm Concern Int1) Let’s start with some background on Farm Concern International and your role at the organisation.
Farm Concern International, FCI is an Africa-wide agri-market development agency specialized in value chain analysis, profitable smallholder commercialization and market access. Our experiential journey spans over a decade, and has been rolled out in over 24 countries in Africa, impacting 17 million smallholder farmers and agro-pastoralists. As an African Organization, FCI provides direct programme implementation expertise with expanded strategic partnerships dedicated to consortiums, development partners & programmes, contractors, and International Agencies. To date, FCI has implemented 102 programmes for smallholder commercialization & market access and further conducted capacity building interventions for 132 development partners. The FCI Market Research Division has conducted 340 value chain analyses as the first step for all smallholder market development interventions for consortiums and FCI-Implemented programmes.

My role at Farm Concern International (FCI) is to oversee the start-up and implementation of development programmes focused on Integrated Value Chain Development and Smallholder Farmer (SHF) Commercialization of various commodities in Uganda. I provide strategic leadership and management oversight of projects in Uganda and ensure that all vital structures for recruitment of staff, service delivery, monitoring and evaluation, data validation, reporting and all other elements are established and sustainable. I provide technical support and leadership to commercialization programmes undergirded by commercialization models and a frontline strategy including: Site mapping (sites for implementation, markets, traders, processors etc.); Commercialization campaigns; Collective action for producers; Market Linkages (Linking production to marketing from the outset of project; demand pull as opposed to push). This we accomplish through among others: Village Business Forums, Market Forums and; consultative forums with the Private sector. I also oversee Programmes Quality Control through Logical frameworks, Project Implementation Plans (PIP) and other M&E instruments. Finally, I oversee capacity building of Markets and Trade personnel, coordinators, logistical staff and Finance staff on all aspects that relate to operations.

2) Which current projects are you particularly excited about at the moment?
I am particularly excited about a Project we just launched in Western Uganda: The Commercial Villages for Market Access and Financial Services Project (COViMAP). The project seeks to improve market and trade efficiency for smallholder farmers and wholesale buyers along target value chains. This is being achieved through the Commercial Village Model, saving groups and linkages to financial institutions, business partnerships with formal and informal market actors as well as linkages to business development service providers.

3) What in your view are the main challenges facing the agri sector in East Africa?
With an enormous potential of fertile soils and favourable climate, East Africa has a comparative advantage to produce several agricultural products, process and export as a food basket of the EAC-COMESA region. However, despite its potential, intra-East African Community trade is about US $5.63 billion only (representing only 10% share of intra-EAC trade to the total trade). East Africa exports of goods and services to the COMESA region and other countries within the East African Community (EAC) is thus still low. Limited market-led incentives, low commercialization and subsistence agriculture in East Africa is a barrier to trade. Access to competitive markets remains one of the major challenges facing smallholder farmers in East Africa. Specifically, smallholder farmers are constrained by low level of commercialization, multiple layers of predatory market players that reduce gross margins and, limited access to market information.

4) Any success stories/case studies that you can share?
Over the last 12 years, Farm Concern International (FCI) has developed a Business Model (The Commercial Villages Model), to address the constraints I just highlighted above. The Model is an inclusive business model that has generated statistical evidence for market access, trade and agri-profitability. The Commercial Villages Model has been included by FAO/ACP/EU as an inclusive business model and a case study in the FAO book on Agricultural Value Chain Financing. Furthermore, the Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension Publication (2013), by Wageningen University, documented the model as an Innovation for Support Services while the Cornell University Graduate School highlights the Model as a case study of an Intervention Representing Emerging Imperatives in Global Nutrition especially with its focus on market linkages. Rao, Brümmer & Qaim (2011), Georg-August-University of Göttingen, cites FCI work on collective action and market linkages in “Transformation of Global Agri-Food Systems”. An external evaluation by Tearfund UK found that FCI’s approach was superior in getting communities out of poverty through market linkages.

The model has been tested in over 8 countries and with over 50 commodity value chains, strategic partners and governments. Evidence of impact in Uganda has been documented under various programmes showing price increase by 30%, yields enhanced through access to better technology and, reduction of input cost by 20%.  Under the SeFaMaCo Program in Uganda, the CV Model has facilitated sales worth USD 41.1 Million (USD 805 per Household) between 2014 and 2017, with 51,047 smallholders participating in 345 Commercial Villages (CVs) with support from 108 wholesalers, 87 seed entrepreneurs and 38 input suppliers. Further references: http://www.farmconcern.org/fci-evidence/publications.html

5) What is your vision for the industry?
Commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized and sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond.

6) What surprises you about this sector?
By 2050, the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion, 29 percent higher than today. Nearly all of this population increase will occur in developing countries. Urbanization will accelerate, with about 70 percent of the world’s population expected to be urban. Africa in particular is projected to have 56% of its population living in urban areas by 2050, compared to 40% currently. To feed this larger, more urban and potentially richer population, food production will need to increase by 60 percent from the 2005–2007 baseline to 2050. Thus an estimated annual average of US$83 billion of net investment in developing country agriculture will be required to deliver this production increase. This surprising statistic further underscores the need for developing countries to commercialize their agriculture.

7) You are part of a panel discussion at the upcoming Agribusiness Congress East Africa on “Identifying East Africa’s investment trends & outlooks for 2018”  – what are your expectations of these discussions and what will be your message at the event?
Am excited to be a part of a great team of speakers and panel discussants at the Agribusiness Congress East Africa. I expect to share my experience and, and learn from different industry professionals especially on how to increase Africa’s exports by investing in among others: Technology transfer, provision of better infrastructure, farm equipment and others.

8) What are you most looking forward to at Agribusiness Congress East Africa?
I look forward to sharing experiences on how to improve East Africa’s investment by involving the cooperation of all stakeholders i.e., the government, people (farmers–both large and smallholders, middle-class working population, local entrepreneurs, etc.) and the private sector.

9) Anything you would like to add?
I just want to say thank you to the organisers of this great event and I look forward to future partnerships to take Africa to the next level of Economic growth.